Field Trip to Philadelphia: Florence Fisher Webb West

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On first reacquainting myself with Baltimore and environs some years ago, one thing that impressed me was the refreshingly utilitarian method of naming roads. Near my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ homes runs Philadelphia Road, which I prefer to call “the” Philadelphia Road–because that’s exactly what it was–the road to Philadelphia.

Recently I found myself  taking a metaphorical trip up the Philadelphia Road to explore the family ties of Mrs. Florence Fisher Webb West. After acquiring  a cabinet card identified as Mrs. Frank West by the Russell & Co. studio, No. 5 North Charles Street, Baltimore, I became increasingly interested in a collection of related family photos, mostly taken in Philadelphia.

Florence Fisher Webb was born in Philadelphia about 1871 to bookkeeper Samuel Webb (1842-1932) and Maria Christiana (Dunnott) Webb (1845-1928). Florence spent at least part of her childhood in the Philadelphia household of her aunt and uncle, Eliza Dunnott Gibson and bookbinder George Gibson.

Florence’s middle name honors her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Fisher Dunott (1824-1897). The Dunott family appears to have originated in Delaware, while the Webbs go far back in Philadelphia. Florence’s grandfather, John Webb, went to sea as a youth, served with the city militia during the nativist riots of 1844, and prospered as a hotel owner.

Florence married hardware salesman Frank West in 1897, son of Emma and Edwin West (1844-1909), an English-born bank clerk. Florence and Frank had one child, Jack Edwin West, born in 1899. Frank does not appear to have done particularly well financially. At first they lived with her parents at 1706 N. Sydenham Street, a neighborhood of three-story, two-bay Italianate row houses near what is now Temple University. In 1910 he gave his occupation as manufacturer of garters. In 1920 he was a “sanitary engineer” at an ordnance depot in Salem County, New Jersey.

1930 found Florence a widow. She and her son were again living with her parents on Sydenham Street in Philadelphia. After that, the trail goes cold. I know she was alive in 1932, because I found a record of invoices sent to her for the funeral and grave for her father with that date, addressed to her at 1706 N. Sydenham Street. That is the last trace of Florence Fisher Webb West.

Her son Jack lived alone in 1940, and gave his occupation at salesman in a sporting goods store. I learned that he served in the Army during World War II, but not what became of him afterwards.

I have another Russell & Co. portrait of Florence’s mother Maria, possibly taken during the same period. But what drew them to Baltimore? I still don’t know.

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